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Vusi Mahlasela's "Song of Love"

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Wednesday April 20, 2011

from Times LIVE

His Song of Love
South Africa remains at the heart of world star’s music

By Andrea Nagel

Vusi Mahlasela learned about music in his grandmother’s shebeen. “She played a lot of American vinyls featuring artists like Elvis and the Motown singers.”

For that child growing up in the Tshwane townships during apartheid, music was king.

“Back then I built myself a guitar out of an achar container and used fishing line for strings. A neighbour gave me my first real guitar. He worked the night shift and referred to my friends and me as ‘The Pleasure Invaders’, which is what we called our first band. We were eight years old,” he says.

It’s an ironic name for a band formed by a musician who now brings so much pleasure and inspiration to people around the world.

But Mahlasela prefers to talk about people who have inspired him.

“I’ve been touched by Philip Tabane, Miriam Makeba, dub poet Lesego Rampolokeng and other great South Africans like Mongane Wally Serote and Nadine Gordimer, whom I regard as a mother. She encouraged me to be a musician and paid for my music lessons.”

Mahlasela’s latest album, Say Africa, is the first he’s recorded with an American producer, Taj Mahal. Mahlasela met Mahal last year at the 46664 charity show in San Francisco, where other guests included David Hidalgo from Los Lobos and Mickey Hart from Grateful Dead.

Mahlasela works hard to make his music heard. This weekend he travels to the Underberg, Kimberley and Cape Town to perform. Later this year, he will play in the US, Europe and Australia, and he still finds time for his Vusi Mahlasela Music Development Foundation, an outreach programme with Tshwane primary schools.

“Our programme, supported by the Finnish and Danish embassies, teaches youngsters to read and write music. Our students participated in performances at the World Cup teen parks, which was very satisfying for me.”

It is not his successes that Mahlasela enjoys talking about: the fact that in February his new album featured on the US Billboard World Music Chart or that the album was No1 on iTunes. He doesn’t mention the times he’s played with Dave Matthews or that he will be performing at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles later this year with Angelique Kidjo and Youssou N’Dour.

Read the full article here